Priti Krishtel, a longtime health justice attorney and drug pricing activist, has won a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant for her work to make drug pricing fairer by exposing inequities in the patent system. Krishtel, along with Tahir Amin, is a co-founder of AV grantee I‑MAK, the Initiative for Medicines, Access & Knowledge, which aims to build a more just and equitable medicines system.
The patent system presents a troubling conundrum when it comes to pricing medicines. Drug companies strategically accumulate patents, building “patent thickets” that protect monopoly pricing power and shut out competitors. The toll? Damaged public health and strain on household budgets. I‑MAK recently released a new and detailed report and database on the issue that together lift the veil on how U.S. patents drive drug prices higher on the country’s top 10 best-selling drugs. Momentum in the patent reform space continues to build, encapsulated recently with an endorsement from The New York Times.
We caught up with Krishtel to talk about her “genius” grant:
You’ve just won a prestigious grant, what’s next?
It’s too early to tell – I’m still digesting the news. The news was a complete surprise. I didn’t know until they told me. When they first called me and told me, I didn’t know what to say. They said ‘What are you thinking?’ I answered, ‘You’re the MacArthur Foundation. This is a big deal for the movement.’
Any tips for budding activists in the drug pricing space – or in other areas?
I think it’s figuring out what your superpower is and working on that. This is a very technical space. People tend to get intimidated by all the different parts of the drug pricing or health care system because there is always something to learn. Twenty years in, I’m still learning. Pick up one piece of it, learn that well, and move it forward. We’re all doing our piece of this together and that’s how we make change.
[Krishtel also offered a resource, The Social Change Ecosystem Map, by Deepa Iyer of the Building Movement Project.]
What does this award mean for the drug pricing reform movement writ large in your opinion?
This is a huge validator of the movement’s work and it’s going to give us fuel to push us forward. We just had this win with Medicare negotiation. Now we’re gearing up for the next fight. We’re not going to solve the drug pricing problem until we solve the drug patent problem.